“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
I know I’m not alone in saying that I have wondered at these few verses many times. I know there are countless others out there reading these words and asking some of these very same questions:
“How on earth can you consider it pure joy when you’re facing trials?”
“How is it possible to have joy in the midst of hardship?”
“How can I find and maintain joy when all I can see is my difficulty?”
These are the very questions I want to tackle with you, today. I imagine we have all asked them, in one way or another, and I also imagine that our wrestling with these questions has left some of us with a quite a limp in our faith. It’s hard to reconcile the goodness of God with the reality of suffering. It’s hard to sing, “You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.” As difficult as it may be for us to count it all joy, I know that it isn’t impossible. And I can’t help but wonder if we’ve been asking the wrong questions.
At first glance at this text, I imagine many of us assume it impossible to consider it pure joy when we face trials. If nothing else, I imagine a lack of understanding or a misinterpretation of this passage has caused many of us to walk away from it feeling somewhat defeated before we even begin to try. Instead of our usual approach to this difficult passage, I suggest we begin from a different angle. What if we started the conversation today with a different question:
“What is the purpose of our trials?”
Unlike some of our other questions of “why” and “how”, this is a question that James 1:2-4 actually gives us an answer to. We don’t need to grasp at straws on this one, because the answer is written plainly for us to read in the text. Are you ready for it?
When our faith is tested, it produces perseverance in us.
I love the word “perseverance.” It means to remain under the pressure; a steady persistence especially in spite of difficulties and obstacles. Who do you know who has achieved great things who hasn’t been required to persevere through hardship? In order to finish a marathon, you not only have to train your butt off for months, but you also have to push through the pain of the race itself. Faith is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Perseverance is a necessary part of life, and when we allow ourselves to be strengthened in perseverance, maturity and completeness are just around the corner.
Did you notice that in verse 4? When we choose to persevere instead of giving up, we become mature and complete, lacking nothing. If we could start this conversation about trials with a new perspective, one that assumes there is always purpose in our pain, I wonder how many of us would actually have joy despite what we’re going through.
How do you “consider it pure joy?”
By choosing to recognize that God cares far more about your holiness than our happiness.
By choosing to recognize that God is present in your pain.
By choosing to recognize that character and maturity are being cultivated in you.
By choosing to recognize that God cares about the person you are becoming, and because He loves you to the degree that He does, He is willing to go to great lengths to ensure that you are becoming more and more like Jesus every day.
This is cause for joy—great joy. Joy is not happiness. Joy is not fleeting based on our fleeting circumstances. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and it comes from abiding in Christ.
Cling tight to Jesus in your pain. Lean into His strength, which is far greater than your own. Abide in Him in the good and in the bad, and joy will be yours for the taking.